Having just celebrated Veteran’s Day and Native American Heritage Month, I wanted to address the importance of dads. There are few things as universally touching as the videos of a uniformed dad, just back from a deployment, surprising his child at school, a sporting event, their birthday party, or a holiday family gathering. They always fill me with emotions – joy for the child, gratitude for the veteran’s service, patriotism for our country, and love for my own children. When I look into the faces of the kids in those videos, I see something more than just the obvious happiness. I see relief that Dad is home, and reassurance that he will always be there.
As a father, there were times during my term as the child support director for Arizona when I felt conflicted by our drive toward collections without a complementary emphasis on the role of fathers in children’s lives. Now, at the federal level, I'm pleased OCSE is leading ACF’s fatherhood initiative to elevate the focus on father engagement and involvement.
With the publication of ACF’s latest cross-program information memorandum, Integrating Approaches that Prioritize and Enhance Father Engagement, I'm challenging child support leaders to make fatherhood a priority in our work. Not more important than collections, but equally as important – and imperative. It's time to replace the conflict between collections and fatherhood with collaboration toward common goals.
I strongly encourage all child support programs to consider practices that help build and sustain parent-child relationships to help us accomplish our mission of collecting reliable support payments. Research indicates that fathers who are able to spend time with their child pay more support and pay it more consistently than fathers without regular access to their children. Across the child support community, promising practices that support fatherhood and father engagement include:
Connecting noncustodial fathers to employment services
Increasing the amount of time fathers spend with their children using Access and Visitation funding
Giving credit for parenting time in guideline calculations
Providing staff training on domestic violence awareness and protocols
Educating parents about voluntary paternity acknowledgement
Arranging orientation sessions for parents who have new cases
Partnering with local fatherhood programs
The ACF fatherhood initiatives will, in part, highlight a wide range of programs around the country, from the Responsible Fatherhood grantees of ACF’s Office of Family Assistance to many lesser-known fatherhood programs operating without any public funding. Our effort to identify all these fatherhood programs is the first step toward facilitating more partnerships between these programs and the local child support office in their community. It’s a low-cost best practice that supports meaningful father engagement and improves children’s well-being.
Our mission remains to collect reliable support payments for families, and partnerships with reputable fatherhood programs can help us reach that goal. Many programs combine peer support from other fathers with a formal parenting education curriculum – 24/7 Dads, Quenching the Father Thirst, Fatherhood is Sacred, to name a few. These programs reinforce the importance of a father’s emotional and financial support.
The “Raising Tribal Leaders through Positive Parenting” article on page 4 of the November-December 2018 Child Support Report gives us a great example of how the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe recently integrated the Fatherhood is Sacred workshop into its Child Support Awareness Month activities. In other states, tribes, or counties where the child support agency has a partnership with a fatherhood program, child support staff educate fatherhood practitioners, provide resources and materials, and deliver detailed program information directly to parents in those settings.
We’ve become familiar with research findings that demonstrate ways father involvement positively affects a wide range of outcomes for children including their education, health, and social behaviors. These aspects of a child’s life are equally important to their economic well- being.
OCSE provides Access and Visitation (AV) Program funding to foster relationships between noncustodial parents and their children. Just over half of all state and territorial child support agencies administer OCSE’s AV program. Across other states, child welfare programs or the courts typically use the funding. OCSE provides extensive AV technical assistance, and we’ve worked with several states to transition the program’s oversight from those other agencies to the child support program. We would like to see this funding being used by child support in every state to expand and advance healthy father engagement and connections with their children.
We’ve also seen promising results in states or counties that set formal parenting time schedules when they’re establishing the financial support obligation. In the September-October 2018 Child Support Report, we shared high-level results from our Parenting Time Opportunities for Children (PTOC) grants. The grantees reported increased time children spent with noncustodial parents, improved relationships between parents, more positive perceptions of the child support agency, and higher rates of support payment.
We plan to publish a more detailed research summary in early 2019. We’ll also share funding strategies and promising practices from PTOC grantees that sustained parenting time activities and from states with longer standing practices through state legislation and leadership. Several states are exploring options for developing parenting time services, and others are considering its potential for bringing in new customers. If you are thinking about developing or testing parenting time schedules, contact OCSE’s Division of Program Innovation to get technical assistance.
Our program is not the only one that serves millions of children, but it is the only one that also interacts with all of their fathers. Just as children need financial support throughout their childhood, they also need to feel connected to their fathers throughout their lifetime. Fathers who feel connected with their children are more likely to support them financially. We must approach our work in a way that strengthens that connection, and provides more children with the reassurance of an involved father.